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Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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“Cemetery wars” end for good with passing of new laws

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Photo: Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust CEO Lauren Hargrave and stakeholders, including Minister Steve Kamper, at the Varroville site. Photo: CMCT

A decade-long fight for the Catholic Church to continue offering burial services across Sydney ended with the passing of crucial legislation by New South Wales parliament on 21 June.

Introduced by Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper on 6 June, the Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Trust Bill 2024 was aimed at implementing the two-operator model for the Crown cemeteries sector in NSW, with the other operator the state government.

It provides certainty and clarifies the purpose of the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust as providing burials for all and addresses the growing burial space pressures of Sydney’s faith groups.

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“The indecision and infighting from the former Government left the cemeteries sector in a mess,” Kamper told The Catholic Weekly.

“Every person in NSW deserves accessible, sustainable, and affordable burial and cremation services, regardless of their faith or beliefs.

“The two Crown cemetery operators will ensure continued quality burial and cremation services for our communities.”

“This bill has delivered the certainty our cemeteries and communities need.

“We are getting on with fixing the cemeteries sector, strengthening the industry regulator to be a solid cop on the beat and ensuring there are strong consumer protections for people at a very vulnerable time.”

In a last-ditch effort to stop the bill, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann had criticised church provision of burial services on Crown land, saying the church would earn “billions in income in the coming decades that should have gone to the Crown.”

But Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria chief executive officer Lauren Hardgrove said the arrangement was no different to many charitable organisations that operate on Crown lands, such as the Scouts and surf life saving clubs.

“We’ve been operating in this space for more than a hundred years for the people of Sydney, and this legislation doesn’t change that,” she said.

“It doesn’t transfer money into the hands of the Catholic Church. All it is doing is allowing us to continue to operate the way that we have been, just like [faith-based] schools, hospitals and many other charities.”

She said the law marks the end of almost a decade of indecision and uncertainty for the organisation, which received more than 20 letters of support from major faith groups on the bill.

“It’s closure for us. This ensures that CMCT’s successor entity continues to operate as a charitable cemetery operator in this space, providing services not only for Catholics, but those of all faiths and those of none,” Hardgrove said.

“Looking forward, we can focus on our new cemetery we’re building at Macarthur Memorial Park, to open in April next year.”

Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria operates not-for-profit cemeteries at Liverpool, Rookwood, North Rocks and Kemps Creek.

In February, the NSW Court of Appeal confirmed its status as a charitable organisation, which secured its independence following the resolution last year of a dispute with the previous NSW Government, in which it sought to dismantle the trust and merge it with four under-performing trusts into one government-operated entity.

Nearly 20,000 people signed the Save Our Graves petition in 2021 which deputy CEO of Catholic Cemeteries and Crematoria Damien Furlong said at the time “showed the former government loud and clear that religious groups have a role to play in honouring the dead and caring for those who’ve lost a loved one.”

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